Letter 22 - Pointe du Hoc

An aerial view of Pointe du Hoc today

Photo Credit: WWII Foundation

Before WWII, Pointe du Hoc was nothing more than a place on a coastline. When Hitler’s forces occupied France and furthered the construction of the Atlantic Wall, Pointe du Hoc quickly became an integral part of Germany’s defenses along the coast. With their enemies just over 100 miles across the English Channel, Hitler’s army installed a battery of 155mm guns atop the 100 foot cliffs. For those who aren’t experts in military artillery (probably the majority of people), a 155mm artillery shell has a steel body approximately 6 inches in diameter, 24 inches long, and filled with 15 pounds of explosives, giving it a total weight of 95 pounds (1). The 155mm guns could launch deadly artillery some 20,000 yards, meaning most of the beachfront that would be invaded on D-Day well within range.

In order to successfully take the beaches, the guns on Pointe du Hoc would need to be taken out. Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower and his team quickly drew plans to invade the tiny cape. With the enormity of the D-Day invasion resting on the success of the mission, it was decided that an elite team of Army Rangers led by Lieutenant Colonel James E. Rudder would storm the cliff and dismantle the artillery. After being told the extraordinary plan, one intelligence officer said, “Three old women with brooms could keep the Rangers from climbing that cliff” (2). Rudder didn’t believe that for a minute. He knew that his men would be able to accomplish their goal without reservation.

The US Army 2nd Ranger Battalion would begin their training at Camp Forrest, Tennessee in 1943. Of course, that should sound familiar, as that’s where we meet Charlie Burke in the very first letter of the Audrey Rose Collection. With D-Day in mind from the beginning, the rangers became skilled cliff-scalers and highly trained in close-quarters combat.

The day of the invasion went much differently than the rangers had originally planned for. Captain Fairbanks does an excellent job describing the events of that day in his letter to the General. Thanks to the brave actions of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, many men at Omaha and Utah beaches lived to fight another day.

At the conclusion of the D-Day invasion, casualties were assessed. According to the National Museum of the United States Army, “Following their actions at Pointe du Hoc on 6-8 June 1944, Rudder’s Rangers suffered a seventy percent casualty rate. Less than 25 of the original 225 who came ashore on 6 June were fit for duty. Of those who served in the 2nd Ranger Battalion on D-Day, 77 were killed and 152 wounded. Another 38 were listed as missing” (2). Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

On the 40th anniversary of D-Day in 1984, President Ronald Reagan would travel to Pointe du Hoc and deliver remarks commemorating the events of that fateful day. With several veterans of the 2nd Rangers Battalion sitting before him, Reagan declared, “These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war. Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender’s poem. You are men who in your ‘lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor’” (3). Reagan’s words still ring true today. The actions taken at Pointe du Hoc on June 6, 1944, will forever be remembered as the actions of heroes.

As the war came to a conclusion, the beaches and cliffs of Normandy would not be forgotten. The French government would quickly move to protect the site. Eventually, the French would turn management of Pointe du Hoc over to the United States, where it was immediately designated as an American Battle Monument. Little has changed at the site since D-Day. Large bomb craters still litter the area. The foundations of the German artillery are still visible. A German bunker that was spared from destruction is open to the public. Construction on a new visitors center began in 2020 and is still in progress. In 2013, the American Battle Monuments Commission created a mobile app for Pointe du Hoc that gives walking tours for those at the site and digital tours for people at home. You can download the app and take a tour of the area today by clicking this link.

Many of us probably do not personally know anyone from the 2nd Ranger Battalion, but we hope that as you have read a firsthand account of the day from Captain Fairbanks and soon hear from Charlie himself, you will feel the fighting spirit these brave men possessed and the importance of the freedom they were willing to die for. We will all be forever grateful for their sacrifice.

Thanks for reading about Pointe du Hoc! We highly recommend downloading the mobile app from the link above and taking a walk through the site to learn even more about the incredible events that took place there. To watch Ronald Reagan’s 40th anniversary speech at Pointe du Hoc, click here.